Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Ed/Ops about Computing Equipment and Peripherals

In the past weekend, I have purchased my second netbook, the HP Mini 311 (first look collection by the Liliputing here). Mine has an Atom N280 CPU inside instead of a N270 against those units sold in the US, though (whilst all other things are identical). I have purchased it on the second day when this netbook have just been put onto the Hong Kong market. My first netbook bought was the Samsung NC10 (my detailed review, tips and tricks here), which I also bought it within the first few days when it just arrived in Hong Kong (I pre-ordered it before its first arrival).

In fact, I am just the type of gadgets-aholics whom like to buy the latest and the greatest (might be), get them as soon as possible so that I can enjoy the new toys of the latest much earlier and for longer. Usually, for most of my targets, I could get it without any problem - except Pentax stuff, e.g., the K-7 and DA 15 had been both my targets, and I preordered the K-7 as well, but finally both failed my rough checks when I went to buy them (see here and here respectively for my stories and reports). Shortage of the Pentax goods have usually been an issue (often when my impulsion dies down, the purchase determination is over), and really more a problem for the poor actual performance of the new products as discovered later, during the time of wating (for the case of K-7) and the poor factory quality control (as for the case of the DA15, and K-7 as well). Very late shipment also applies to the case of DA15, too. Indeed, I think LATE is usually a problem for Pentax, which have always been doing no good to them and have hurted their sales. (And now also with the ridiculous high prices of their lenses and accessories.)

Well, let me talk back to my latest purchase of the HP Mini 311, which is an attractive product of an impressive and very competitive specs as well as an elegant outlook but is sold at an unbelievable low price. In fact, I have bought it at a price just a little bit dearer than the Samsung NC10 when I pre-ordered it in end November last year.

Whilst the NC10 is still a good product, I am not totally impressed with the QC of the Samsung factory (in China) neither. There was a big dust *inside* the monitor screen which I can see when the display background is brighter at where the dust is located. The mirror-surfaced rim of the NC10 had some scratches directly out of the box. In contrast, this time, I am really amazed by the high QC standard that HP can attain although HP also has their factory in China. Despite the large glossy areas of the Mini 311 has (much larger in areas than the NC10, mine has glossy white cover outside and glossy black and silver inside), I cannot find even one scratch on the whole body of the HP! (and despite its low price tag set and it is marketed as an "low-end" product).

Besides, the colour accuracy of the HP Mini's LCD screen is more or less the same of that of the Samsung, both look blueish with the factory default settings. In fact, those LED LCD screens are never much usable for viewing photos more accurately and every unit I inspected had obvious blue colour cast (not even to think about to use it for more serious photo editing works). The same applies in general for current "LED" TVs that shows the blue/purple cast for various different models I inspected, brand regardless. The view angle of my HP is not as wide as my Samsung, though. But anyway, I will always choose (colour) accuracy over contrast ratio for a display device, if I had to choose, especially considering the application I intended.

Next, I would tell another recent purchase story of mine. As my two-year+ old Samsung SPP-2020 Dye Sublimation Thermal printer is ageing but actually the real issue is that purchasing the compatible Samsung photo papers and dye cartridges is now just impossible, about two weeks ago when I came across a cheap Canon Selphy one day after work, I bought it straight away without consideration, and with the new important accessories, i.e., photo papers for printing with the dye-sub colour cartridges.

Well, for the Samsung case and from my experiences, I must say that actually the after-sales support (servicing and continuous supplies of accessories and repair spare parts, etc.) is really very important and every customer should consider this more when we are to make our purchase decision. My Samsung printer had gone for servicing for once and I would say the Samsung servicing support is just *terrible*. The Samsung staff are polite but they could do nothing else besides being polite! It seems that Samsung have never thought about how would they do when the users get their "minor" products for servicing! Well, I can only see that their technical staff were on panic! In fact, I have already seen some Samsung GX-20 users complained about the lack of servicing support for their GX-20. Just see this example, here, the GX-20 user finally got the full refund of the purchase cost paid by him for his *new* GX-20 just because Samsung was unable to do any repair for his defective "Samsung" unit, which was still under warranty! (His report is in Traditional Chinese.)

Now, I have had my new Canon Selphy (Model 740), Still, I could see the same case as that HP Vs Samsung mentioned above for the QC on the exterior. There is nearly no scratch at all for the Canon but the Samsung units were full of small and large scratches on the same glossy surfaces. Again, both my Samsung and Canon printers were made in China (Well, China is really the "World Factory" now but I think the whole planet have to pay for it - for the serious environment pollution in China these years.. :-(). In fact, when I purchased my Samsung printer, I had opened three new boxes already and chose the best. But then the first printer has an issue shortly after a few days of use which the printed photos were scratched after printing so I returned it for a replacement within the first 7 days of guaranteed period offered by the shop.

Despite the Samsung 2020 is a printer with poor reliability, poor QC and virtually no servicing support from Samsung at all and the worst is no consumeables to purchase after the first lot (!?), I still love its print quality for the output photos after some tweakings at the printer driver (direct printed photos are yet dark and shadow details are lost, with PictBridge via USB). When I bought the Canon without a second thought, I was having high confidence with Canon's products like DSLRs and lenses and bubblejet printers etc. that I had purchased over years and have never been disappointed. But then I shortly learnt that this Selphy I acquired is just a mediocre product or even I would say it is just a piece of Junk somehow by Canon's usual standards, in comparison.

First of all, it prints rather slowly. Somehow even slower than my ancient Samsung. Secondly, it prints even darker than the Samsung when direct print. Besides, it is equipped with a 2" LCD for preview and direct printing without any computer/notebook for its design but this LCD is just of very poor display quality and is very difficult to view (the 2" LCD of my *ist DS is way better!). Last but not least, the worst is: The printed photos are with serious yellow colour cast and its output resolution can be seen to be somehow lower than that of the Samsung, despite both are rated at 300 dpi!? :-( I have tried photos produced by my K-m and 5D, there has been no luck! That is, the Samsung's colours are always better and more accurate, regardless of the camera.

Originally, there should be a lot of funs to use my new Selphy, as it has many paper sizes and formats (post card, labels, credit cards etc.) and those can be purchased anywhere (electrical, computer or even stationary shops). Also, it seems that those consumeables will never be discontinued - I can see that the latest Selphies are still using the same photo papers and formats. But then the print quality of my Selphy has just let me down and it is for the first time I have really bad experience of a Canon, as far as output quality and actual performance are concerned. Yet fortunately, after some preliminary calibration of the printer, it is now still usable, although it is not as good as the Samsung (which have never been required to adjust the colours in the printer driver of it).

So, after all these recent purchasing stories and my new user experiences, you can see that a successful product actually needs many things: Good product design, good performance of product, good QC and manufacturing standard that can keep the designed standard, good marketing (that the product can be found anywhere in the street and so do its accessories), good after-sales support and so on. Without any of the above, the consumers/customers/users' experiences will not be so pleasant and that surely it will hurt the the brand and then the company in long run - in this case, I have lost the confidence of Canon's printer product from now on and on the other hand I am sure I shall not buy any Samsung "minority" product any further in the future.

As for Pentax, I think they are still struggling in performing better in every aspect in the above business chain that I have mentioned above, which unfortunately they were actually being excellent in most of those mentioned decades ago, which is really sad for an old Pentaxian like me. In fact, they really need to improve and make everything better, otherwise they will not survive (since they are neither Samsung nor Canon, whom can afford for some loss of their customers as their built customer bases are just huge, still!).

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